Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Hey, Mr DJ

A musical history of Woody’s

DJ Shawn Riker Credit: XXXXXX

To every great bar, there is a soundtrack. From vinyl all the way to MP3s, we spoke to the DJs who have shaped the sounds and vibes at Woody’s for the past 25 years.

New Waves
Right from the start, Woody’s stood out. While everyone played pop favourites like Rick Astley and Belinda Carlisle, Dean Odorico and Steve Clegg and their staff filled the speakers with something harder.

“We opened with new wave and rock, like Toni Childs, B-52s and the Pretenders,” Odorico says. “All the other places [on Church Street] were either piano bars or played dance music — and maybe a country and western one as well. We did have a piano. The owner thought everybody had a piano, so we had to have one. It took me six months to get rid of it.”

In 1989, DJs David Christie, Robin and Jeanette spun the first sets, but if it weren’t for another big name in the community, they would have just been pushing down the play button on a cassette deck. Odorico is eternally grateful to Fly Nightclub’s Shawn Riker, who was responsible for setting up the sound system without taking a cent for his services. “Back then, it was more community. It wasn’t everybody after each other’s throats; it wasn’t like that,” Riker says.

When the plastic wasn’t spinning, cassettes were played during the daytime and drag queens brought in music for their shows.

DJ Mark Falco
Ace of Base and Whitney Houston were topping the charts in 1993, but Woody’s was still breaking out the REM and Nirvana. “It was such a different bar back then, a lot smaller obviously, and the music that played was rock and alternative,” Falco says of his first year. “I started working at Woody’s about 21 years ago, right before Sailor opened.”

Sailor
Cue Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm.” Odorico remembers hearing the lyrics “I used to be a little boy” when the firewalls came down between the two buildings. As the space widened, the music got louder — it needed to fill the bigger venue — and became more mainstream. “Some people missed the old format, but it was something we needed to do. We still had Tuesday’s Bad Boys’ Night Out, which was all rock and retro with lots of Bowie,” Odorico says.

It was 1994, and chart-topping divas like Mariah, Janet and Madonna were welcomed onto the collection shelf.

Blue Peter
The DJs undoubtedly keep spirits up through the evenings, but it’s normal to see folks downing brews while mesmerized by what’s playing on the television screens. VJ Blue Peter Elie has ruled the video decks since 1998. His Monday-night gigs are as popular as ever, with top 40 videos and all-time faves filling the screens.

Elie and Falco remain loyal to Woody’s to this day.

DJ Chris Steinbach
“I went into Woody’s when it was first being built and applied for a job. They told me it wasn’t going to be a dance bar, so I never really took it anywhere forward. Here I am 20 years later coming back,” says Chris Steinbach, whose eventual first gig was in 2010. “Sooner or later, everybody comes through Woody’s.”

There’s an old saying that every road leads to Woody’s, and that’s not far from the truth.

To this day, people meet up with friends, exchange pleasantries with acquaintances and make new connections. Woody’s remains popular as an after-concert destination with both attendees and performers: the Scissor Sisters and the cast of Wicked have paid visits to Woody’s after their shows. This past summer saw Nelly Furtado, Adam Lambert, Ron Goddard (from The Amazing Race Canada) and folks from Big Brother Canada walk through the doors. “I hope I get to stay here a long time. I’m in no rush to go anywhere,” Steinbach says.